Paul Dacre

Dacre, who stanchly defended self-regulation this morning during an appearance at the Leveson inquiry

Credit: Ben Birchall/PA

Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail, railed against the idea of substantially increasing press regulation in an appearance at the Leveson inquiry this morning.

Dacre, who is also chairman of the editors' code of practice committee and a champion of self regulation, launched a typically impassioned defence of the Press Complaints Commission.

Early on in his appearance, he announced that he aimed to "persuade this inquiry that self regulation, albeit in a considerably beefed up form, is, in a country that regards itself as truly democratic. the only viable way of policing a genuinely free press".

He went on to say that the "growing clamour for more regulation ignores the uncomfortable truth that the press is already on the cusp of being over regulated", and criticised existing legislation such as the Data Protection Act, which means journalists can be "criminalised for such basic journalistic practices as obtaining ex-directory numbers, which they need to do to check the accuracy of stories".

The Associated Newspapers editor-in-chief did make some unexpected concessions in the course of his speech, announcing that the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and the Metro will introduce a corrections and clarifications column on page two starting next week, and unusual step for tabloid titles.

He also suggested that an independent ombudsman – likely a retired judge or civil servant – should work alongside the PCC and have the power to fine those guilty of serious malpractice. Under the principle of "polluter pays", Dacre said, offending media groups could be made to carry the cost of investigations.

The editors' code of practice, which is enforced by the PCC, is devised by the 17-strong code committee that Dacre chairs, which includes seven newspaper editors. During his appearance this morning, Dacre acknowledged that the committee should include non-industry members but stopped short of suggesting that editors themselves be removed.

As he has done consistently in the past, Dacre dismissed criticism that newspapers consider adjudication by the PCC under the code a "slap on the wrist", telling the seminar that he considers it "a real act of shame".

He also sought to dismiss several "myths" surrounding the PCC, including the idea that the conduct of the press had deteriorated, claiming that it was "vastly better behaved and disciplined" than it was when he began in newspapers in the 1970s. He called press behaviour then "truly outrageous".

"It was not uncommon for reporters to steal photographs from homes, blatant subterfuge was commonly used. There were no restraints on privacy, and harassment was the rule and not the exception.

"The PCC I believe, has changed the very culture of Fleet Street. The editors' code of conduct imbues every decision made by newsdesks and back benches."

Alongside staunch criticism for over-regulation, Dacre attacked the "liberal hatred" of the tabloid press, claiming that it had "transmogrified" into a hatred of self-regulation itself.

Richard Desmond, CFA (no-win-no-fee) legal agreements and the internet were also in Dacre's firing line. He said that Desmond's decision to withdraw his Express Group titles from the PCC was "body blow to the commission".

"How can you have self-regulation when a major newspaper group unilaterally withdraws from it?", he asked.

It was a paradox, he said, that demands for greater regulation came at a time "when more and more of the information that people want to read is being provided by an utterly unregulated and arguably anarchic internet".

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